Why Nandan Nilekani won't be an easy opponent for Ananth Kumar

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A news that put Bangalore abuzz on Wednesday is that Infosys co-founder and chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani could contest the next Lok Sabha polls on the Congress's ticket and that too from South Bangalore, a stronghold of the BJP and constituency of five-time sitting MP Ananth Kumar.

It was always heard that former Indian test captain Anil Kumble could be fielded by the BJP to take on Nilekani from the prestigious seat. The news spread like a wildfire, so much so, that sources close to Kumar told Oneindia that it was a rumour.

Whether the Congress gives a ticket to Nilekani is for itself to decide but the surfacing of Nilekani as a probable challenger to Kumar is an interesting development.

The candidature of the IT man, if it really takes a formal shape, will not be without a reason. The Congress, bolstered by a welcome victory in Karnataka in May, is banking on this southern state to do well in the Lok Sabha elections. Particularly when things are looking shaky in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh which had played a major role in the party's success in the 2009 parliamentary elections, 10, Janpath will earnestly hope to replace it with Karnataka this time. The Congress has eight out of 28 seats from the state and will look to wrest some more from the BJP's tally of 19. Out of those 19, Ananth Kumar is a major target.

Ananth Kumar's decreasing vote share

The plan has its merits. Although Kumar has been winning from South Bangalore for five times in a row now, his vote share has decreased over the years. In 1998, his share was 53 per cent, while in 1999 it was reduced to 51 per cent. In 2004 and 2009 parliamentary elections, the vote share further dipped to 48.3 and 48.2 per cents, respectively. The Congress will be hoping to topple Kumar this time, spoiling his aim for a double hat-trick.

Congress increasing influence in more segments

The party has other reasons to feel interested about a probable fall of Kumar. In the 2009 elections, Kumar had won five out of the eight assembly segments of the South Bangalore seat with a margin of 37,469 votes. As per the 2013 assembly election results, the score stood at 4-4 with seats like Govindraj Nagar and Vijaya Nagar going in favour of the Congress while Jayanagar going to the BJP. [See here and here]

Is the Congress looking to Nilekani as a socio-psychological alternative to Modi

The Congress has an advantage of over 59,000 votes in the assembly constituencies, another reason which makes itsleadership feel confident about carrying on with the momentum. The honeymoon period of the new Siddaramaiah government will cover the Lok Sabha polls and hence the Congress is all the more keen to go for an all-out attack.

Nilekani's appeal & importance

Fielding a professional to woo urban Bangaloreans is not a fresh strategy by the Congress. In 2009, 36-year-old Krishna Byre Gowda was given the nomination by Congress against Kumar but he lost by a margin of 37,000 votes. The Congress is likely to stick to an inexperienced but popular face instead of fielding faceless candidates and ruin its good form. This is where Nilekani becomes important. Both Nilekani and the Congress have a mutual benefit if the former is indeed fielded from Bangalore South.

Mutual benefit for Nilekani and Congress

For Nilekani, his ambition to float a political career will be best catered to by the Congress's plan to field him from a seat like Bangalore South. For the Congress, giving a poll ticket to Nilekani will have a couple of reasons. First, he will attract the aspirational middle-class through his IT charm and ensure that the opposition doesn't run away with the disillusioned section's votes.

And secondly, it will be a moment to acknowledge the contribution of the man who has been instrumental in the UPA government's pro-poor agenda in a big way. Nilekani devised the Adhaar project, a stepping stone of the Manmohan Singh government's pet social welfare programmes carried out over its long tenure. In that way, Nilekani is a face that the Congress will like to showcase before the electorate to cement its role in history.

Brahmin versus Brahmin

These two factors in a way say that Nandan Nilekani could be Congress's answers to Narendra Modi, not politically but socio-psychologically. The Congress had been lacking a strong face to take on Kumar in the upper-caste dominated South Bangalore constituency area so far. Now, a Brahmin looks the best man to take on another Brahmin.

Looking at Ananth Kumar

It is strange that a fresher in politics, Nandan Nilekani, is being given so much attention as a probable opponent to Kumar just on the basis of an unconfirmed news. It suggests that there must be some problem with Kumar's candidature, even though he is miles ahead than Nilekani in terms of experience, both in party and electoral politics.

The situation isn't very conducive for Ananth Kumar since the BS Yeddyurappa episode rattled the BJP and saw it being overthrown after just one term. Kumar's role behind the Lingayat strongman's quitting the BJP was so much talked about that even Congress leader P Chidambaram once sarcastically remarked that his party was happy that Kumar had played in its victory in Karnataka!

Kumar, known to be close to LK Advani, also continued to be a fence-sitter on the anointment of Modi as the party's prime ministerial candidate. He did it perhaps knowing very well that the Modi wave was unstoppable and he needed to fall in line for his own political survival. But his political credibility has taken such a beating by now that the Congress knows very well that one good candidate can make Kumar's happy hunting in Bangalore South a story of the past.

According to a poll conducted by Oneindia, only 26 per cent of people felt that the BJP should field Ananth Kumar against Nilekani from South Bangalore constituency. Even a non-political figure like Kumble got 53 per cent votes. Quite unthinkable for a pro like Kumar.

The announcement by Yeddyurappa to join hands with the BJP post Modi's coronation will also put Ananth Kumar in a spot. The former's Karnataka Janatha Paksha had hit the BJP hard in the assembly elections (the party won around 18,000 votes in the said constituency which would have helped the BJP reduce the gap at least) and Kumar could be in a dilemma now over the BSY question. The eclipse of Advani at the national level raises one pertinent question: Did seasoned Kumar miscalculated to put all his eggs in the wrong basket?

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